HAITISHIFT & The Power Pendulum: Citizen, Society, & State in Haiti

The Power Pendulum swang to the far right of coercion at the inception of the nation building of Haiti. The earliest haitian administrations were engraved with abundant coercion as the new state absorbed its new constituents into its force realm.

What would the economy of the new nation look kike after independence? The march from slavery to freedom left its mark on the organization of the new state, and its citizenry. Before independence, Toussaint Louverture led a military regime and chose to continue the plantation system to prove to the world that economic productions can be sustained without slavery.

Dessalines followed the economic and agricultural policies set up by Toussaint. He used the army to force ex-slave laborers to work on the platations. This represented forced labor practices of the old regime and created conflicts in the building of the new state of Haiti’s new order.

Jean-Jacques Dessalines became inevitably the first in command. He led the black and mulatto forces to victory againt the Napoleonic army. He became chief of the new state as the most powerful man in the new nation. He took successively the titles of commander in chief, governor-general, head of state, emperor, giving himself the right to select his succesor.

As a military ruler, he was supported by fellow ex-slaves turned to be military generals of the revolutionnary army.


The plantation economy against individual liberty

There were two dominant thoughts in the power pendulum swinging in the buiding of the new nation: the plantation economy, and individual liberty.
Dessalines had total control of the state military force.

Those who opposed and resisted his commands were sanctioned, and put to death. His regime the forced labor practices of the past. He chosed to be on the side of the elite, and the wealthy landowners by upholding large properties and the export agricultural system.

The fight for independence should have shifted the center of liberty from society as a whole to the individual as a unit created by God to fullfill its destiny.

The worldview concepts and ideas in the moment were about liberty, equality, brotherhood, happiness, property, ownership. It was at the moment mainstream thought individual’s rights and responsibilities precede society’s settlement as a whole in which powerful rulers decide their might is right.

The mass of ex-slaves became citizens. As a whole, they had a territory to defend, and a nation to build. But, each one was a unique human being with specific gift, talent, and ability.

Each one wanted to be free to own his parcel of land to grow crops, to satisfy his need and his family’s; and not to be forced to continue working on a plantation under a new military regime similar the the old one to export sugar and coffee.

Economist Murray Rothbard wrote: “the glory of the human race is the uniqueness of each individual, the fact that every person, though similar in many other ways to others, posseses a completetly individuated personality of his own.” (1)

When individuals prosper; families, societies and nations prosper. Haitian people did not want to be mere objects to be used for the state’s or society’s ends which were profiting a tiny elite.

As Orrin Woodward wrote : “liberty has its limit, since a person does not have the liberty to deny others their liberty. The goal of a free society is to provide liberty and justice for all members to grow, and benefit from their gifts, talents and purpose.” (2)

The sense of unity, created in 1804 with a brod coalition of freedom fighters, did not last. The power pendulum oscillated throgh competing social forces and tensions emcompassing land ownership and power control. The power pendulum could not be remained in the middle where concord balanced coercion and chaos.

Dessalines ‘s regime unraveled in a situation where the oligarchy elite of the mulatoes and black generals of the army wanted total control and the masses of laborers wanted total freedom.

The affranchis, most of them of a lighter complexion, the coloured men had been on the side. They were most cultured, and educated, and preferred a shared power system with a legislature. There was no formal opposition. The strategy learned to change a government was creating chaos through armed revolt.

Dessalines was assassinated. The country was divided in two camps with each one a ruler: Petion in the West, and Christophe in the North.

Haitian Politics -throughout history- present a dichotomy of twose two groups fighting to have power for themselves and for the betterment of their own tribes.

(1) Murray Rothbard, “Freedom, Inequality, Primitivism and the Division of Labor.”

(2) Orrin Woodward “And Justice for All, The Quest for Concord.”

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